March 20, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Yesterday, I wrote about a New Hampshire legislator’s unusual plan to repeal marriage equality in the state and replace it with civil unions, and it looks like things in the Granite State continue to defy expectations. The National Organization for Marriage, one of the most anti-gay organizations in the country and a firm opponent of marriage equality for the last five years, has announced that it supports HB 437, the bill that would end marriage equality in the state and roll back the law to allow for civil unions.
Not surprisingly, NOM’s New Hampshire announcement includes an old trope the organization is fond of. In its press release, NOM cites as a reason for supporting HB 437 the fact that marriage equality in New Hampshire was enacted legislatively and not by a popular vote and urges legislators to “let the voters have the final say.” (Apparently, NOM hasn’t looked into the details of Rep. Bates’s amendment, which would not give the voters any ‘final say’ at all.) And, of course, it is unwise to read too much into this decision and view it as a shift of policy for the organization.
Still, NOM’s announcement is noteworthy for two reasons. To begin with, it marks the first and only time that the organization has ever indicated support for civil unions. When a civil union bill was making its way through the Illinois legislature last year, NOM urged its members to send their lawmakers a letter that called civil unions “a direct threat to marriage.” If the NOM-supported New Hampshire bill passes, civil unions will again be the law of the land in the state.
But perhaps more surprisingly, the New Hampshire repeal bill would allow gay and lesbian couples who have already wed to stay married. Of course, this is more a recognition of how difficult it would be to annul legal marriages rather than an expression of support for couples that have already married. Nevertheless, it is incredible to see NOM supporting a piece of legislation that is in at least one small way pro-marriage equality.
What can we take away from NOM’s move in New Hampshire? Probably not much. NOM is sure to be out in force doing its best to oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians across the nation come November in states like Washington, Maryland, Maine and Minnesota, and in North Carolina this May. Still, the very fact that NOM is being forced to change its tactics and take a position that would seem completely contradictory to its philosophy and past actions shows that the organization knows the ground of public opinion is shifting under its feet.